To me, sitting down to enjoy a healthy, delicious meal is one of life’s sweetest pleasures. Just ask my family. They get a kick out of imitating me tilting my head back and releasing a guttural “mmmmmm” when I taste something I really like. And it makes great imitation material.
My relationship with food hasn’t always been a good one. There were many years that I used food to fill loneliness. From there, I developed a love/hate relationship with food. I loved it when it filled my void, but I hated it when the guilt and repulsion over what and how much I ate set in.
I also experienced years of feeling dissatisfied with my body shape. I tried to time and time again to reshape my figure by putting harsh restrictions on my intake, but the only real loss that took place was the enjoyment I had once experienced when I would eat.
So many women struggle with a similar love/hate relationship with food either because they’re unhappy with their weight and eat according to some trendy diet guidelines rather than honoring your body’s needs, or because they turn to food when they’re emotionally triggered and are usually left with a guilt hangover.
Even though so many women experience this on some level, it’s not something we talk about with each other. Instead, we feel alone, even helpless, in our struggle. If this is you, I want to share the steps I took to rekindle my joy around eating so that you might feel more empowered to recreate your relationship with food. No, you don’t need to release the “mmmmmm” when you taste something delicious … unless you want to!
There was a day, years ago, when I remember wondering how two of my closest friends could feel so uncomfortable in their own skin when I could only their see beauty. Later that evening, I looked in the mirror and saw my reflection in a different light. Rather than pick out my flaws, I saw my body as a precious gift that I’d been given to fully experience my life. I realized that the better I treated my body, the healthier I would be on the inside, which would transcend outward into the other areas of my life.
In that moment, I realized that it was my choice. I had the power to change because the only one responsible for feeding me, was me. I could choose to continue my unhealthy eating patterns, or I could empower myself by learning how to eat in a way that would make me feel better both physically and emotionally. That’s when everything began to change.
Since that day, I’ve been committed to 4 things that have made a huge impact on my life:
- I eat food that nourishes my body, which nurtures my soul, removing any guilt, disappointment, or disgust.
- I listen to my body. I eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full, rather than using food to feed my emotions.
- I understand the basic tenets of sound nutrition.
- I keep myself aware of the latest research on the best way to maximize my metabolism.
I’ve incorporated these 4 elements into 14 easy-to-follow steps, each of which include tips on how to incorporate them into your life so you, too, can discover the pleasure, vitality, and body confidence that comes when you have a love/joy relationship with food.
14 Easy-to-follow Steps
#1. Pause and check-in before you eat.
Did you know that experts estimate that 75% of overeating is caused by emotions? It’s important to take a moment to do a quick check-in with yourself before you eat. Ask yourself
if you’re eating because you’re hungry, or because you’ve been emotionally triggered and are eating to numb, comfort, soothe, distract, or release you from feelings other than hunger.
Tip: If you want to learn some constructive, effective tools for processing emotions rather than turning to food, I can help. You can reach me at email@example.com.
#2. Let go of the diet mentality.
When prescribed by a medical professional, a diet can be beneficial. But for the average person, a diet isn’t a feasible way of eating in the long-term. Diets focus on restriction. It’s much more effective, not to mention freeing, to eat in a way that honors and supports your body, rather than eating to try to “fix” yourself.
Tip: Focus on replacing non-nutritious foods with nutrient-rich ones, rather than just eliminating them.
#3. Set yourself up for a positive, constructive relationship with food by taking a moment to say “thank you” for the food you are about to eat.
Developing a healthy relationship with food begins with a fundamental principle: gratefulness.
Tip: Taking a moment to feel gratitude will set a positive tone for your meal. When we look at what’s before us as a blessing, we will savor it … even kale.
#4. Eat mindfully vs. mindlessly.
Mindful eating is directly linked to food enjoyment and satisfaction. But so many of us eat on the fly. Or while we multitask. But this kind of mindless eating leads to overconsumption and under-satisfaction. And when we feel unsatisfied, we often end up back in the kitchen looking for something else, even though our bodies don’t actually need more food.
Tip: With our busy lives, some multitasking is inevitable. But even when you’re multitasking, take a second to consciously shift your concentration from whatever you’re doing to your food. Really taste it. I promise this tip will increase your satisfaction and decrease the likelihood that you will go searching for more.
#5. Have an open mind.
If we stereotype healthy food as bad-tasting and choke it down because we “have” to, not because we “want” to, our enjoyment will go out the window. That type of eating is not sustainable. Become mindful of your reaction to food. Just as we encourage children to try new things and be open-minded, so should we when it comes to adopting healthier eating habits.
Tip: There are endless amounts of amazing recipe books, videos, and blogs available to you with nutrient-rich healthful recipes that will tantalize and satisfy your tastebuds! If you don’t mind quinoa one way, try one of the other hundred ways to cook it. (Just ask my husband!)
#6) Listen, and trust, your body.
If you listen, your body will tell you when it’s hungry, and when it’s full. But we forget to listen. We’re often too distracted, and most of us have been programmed to eat at certain times and until our dinner plate is empty. But the more we learn to tune into our body’s cues, the better we’ll be at keep our bellies satisfied and our metabolisms efficient.
Tip: It takes 20 mins for the signal from your belly to reach your brain to tell you you’re full. That means you should spend at least that long enjoying your meal. Try putting your fork down between bites and checking in to see how your belly feels, rather than just clearing your plate.
#7) Be careful not to label foods as “good” or “bad”.
If we eat a food that we label as bad, we project this onto ourselves. We’re being bad because we’re eating something bad. We’re also likely to try to restrict, or even deprive ourselves of those foods, which often backfires and leaves us wanting more.
Tip: Use words like nutritious, less-nutritious, or non-nutritious foods. And rather than trying to eliminate less- or non-nutritious foods, try trusting your intuition and your body’s cues.
#8) Read labels
As I said, I’ve never followed a diet plan. But I am a label-reader. I’ve read at least 95% (that’s conservative) of the food labels in my house. That’s where I believe our power resides. We don’t farm or manufacture the food. But we can read what’s in our food and choose whether or not we put it into our bodies. Here are my guidelines:
- A short list of ingredients
- Ingredients I recognize and can pronounce
- Whole grains
- Some fiber (indicates carbohydrates are whole, rather than refined grains)
- Fat content should be high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat and low saturated fat content
- A low sugar content
- A reasonable sodium content (trick is to double the calories in 1 serving to get recommended sodium content. Ex. 100 calories/serving = 200 mg sodium)
- Avoid food with high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils
- Take note of the serving size and portion accordingly
Tip: Try using the Fooducate and/or Good Guide apps. You can download them to your phone to evaluate the nutrient content of food while you’re grocery shopping.
#9) Empower yourself by learning some nutrition basics.
I know that trying to keep up with all the latest information on what’s healthy and what’s not healthy, on when to eat and when not to eat, can be overwhelming. But it shouldn’t be that complicated. There actually are some basic principles that most of us can live by. Knowing them will empower you to make healthier choices..
- Eat every 3-4 hours.
- Drink lots of water. Drinking water can actually boost your body’s ability to burn fat! A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that drinking about 17 oz. of water a day increases your metabolism by 30% in healthy men and women. Hello!
- Choose label-less food created by Mother Earth first.
- Choose organic, sustainable, locally-sourced, and non-GMO foods as much as possible.
- Take portion control into your hands – literally. Your protein should be about the size of your palm. Carbohydrates should be a handful. And your fruits and veggies should fill 2 hands.
- Make the majority of your plate fresh fruits and veggies.
- Be mindful of your carbohydrate portions and choose primarily unrefined, fiber-rich options such as veggies, fruits, beans, lentils, and whole grains.
- Eat a variety of lean proteins, such as sustainable seafood, grass-fed beef, and free-range chicken, turkey, and eggs along with beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds. Eat small amounts of protein throughout the day.
- Combine your macronutrients. Protein and monounsaturated fats helps to keep your blood sugars in check. So instead of just an apple or a slice of toast, top them with your favorite natural nut butter.
- Use healthy oils such as olive, coconut, and avocado oils instead of canola or vegetable oils.
- Avoid processed food as much as possible.
- Reduce sugar. Replace foods that contain 10+ grams of sugar per serving with a more natural option that contains less sugar.
- Reduce dairy. You probably know that dairy foods can lead to inflammation and gastrointestinal discomfort, and when dairy sources are high in saturated fat, they can even lead to heart disease. Make your primary sources of calcium green, leafy veggies, legumes, and non-GMO soy products. You can even strengthen your bones by reducing your sodium intake!
- Be mindful of your sodium intake. This will not be an issue if you practice the steps above. But just so you have a measuring point, your daily intake of sodium should be around 2300 mg. If you eat 4 times a day, you’ll want to stay around 500-600 mg per meal.
- Use Stevia, raw honey, sugar alcohols (xylitol and erythritol), and blackstrap molasses as sweeteners. Agave nectar is a decent choice if used in small amounts.
Tip: Use these guidelines to eyeball portion sizes:
- Fist: fruit, veggies, rice, pasta (1 cup)
- Palm: meat, fish, poultry (3 oz)
- Handful: nuts, raisins (1 oz)
- 2 Handfuls: tortilla chips, popcorn, pretzels (1 oz)
- 1 Thumb: nut butters, peanut butter (1 oz)
- 1 Thumb tip: cooking oil, butter, honey (1 t.)
#10) Make sure the majority of food you eat comes from your healthful kitchen.
We have limited quality control over the food served outside our homes. I love to eat out, but the majority of what I eat comes from my kitchen. Inside our homes, we have complete control over the nutritional quality of our food. I pack my lunch and snacks when I can, so that I can feel more confident that what I put into my body is made from whole, organic, non-GMO ingredients.
Tip: Make your kitchen a healthy refuge, stocked with a variety of fresh, nutrient-rich meal and snack options.
#11) Even when time is of the essence, take a moment to put your food on a plate.
This is a new and effective strategy for me. When everyone in my family was going in different directions, I tended to graze on a mish-mosh of different things. Now I take the time to put my food on a plate, no matter what. On a plate, I can see the nutritional quality and portion size of my meal.
Tip: Taking the extra two minutes to do this small thing honors my body and provides a little act of self-care during the chaos. That’s balance.
#12) Get the majority of your calories through meals, not empty-calorie snacks.
Mindless snacking throughout the day can do two things. First, it can cause you to gain weight if you’re eating when you’re not actually hungry. Second, it can cause you to be less hungry during meal-time, which is typically when you get most of your nutrients for the day.
Tip: If you are a grazer, choose natural, nutrient-rich snacks that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and some protein, such as veggies, fruit, nuts and seeds.
#13) Exercise to keep your metabolism an efficient machine.
Our muscles cells need energy to function. They get this energy by burning, or metabolizing, calories. Our muscle tissue decreases naturally by 1% per year starting at the age of 40, but exercise helps counteract this. The more we do to fight off the deterioration of our lean muscle tissue, the more we’ll be helping to keep our metabolisms be efficient, calorie-burning machines.
Tip: Simply moving more and sitting less can boost your metabolism through NEAT, or non-exercise activity thermogenesis. If your job requires that you sit a lot, try setting an alarm every 55 minutes as a reminder to get up and move for 5 minutes. Walk in place, do jumping jacks, dance, whatever gets your blood pumping.
#14) If you have a bad day, let it go.
Creating a healthier, happier way of eating doesn’t happen overnight. If you have a weak moment, day, or even a few bad days, don’t give up. Give yourself equal parts patience and forgiveness, sprinkle in some determination, and add a heaping dose of love. Then allow it time to turn into become something that nourishes you, body, mind, and soul.
If you struggle with your relationship to food and want to create a shift, I can help. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you have any tips to add? We’d love to hear! Please comment below.